If you thought this column was about oil you’re going to be disappointed. Drill is a word that also means a practice or exercise in preparation for the real thing — think fire drill or the endless “drills” conducted on ships to prepare the crew for battle or emergencies. But as it relates to the California Legislature even this definition is far too charitable.
In Capitol parlance “drill” is best described as an empty exercise to prove some political point unrelated either to the merits of some legislative act or to the chances that it will actually pass.
With that as a framework for discussion the odds are very high that Tuesday will bring us a “Budget Drill.” Make no mistake the sides in the budget battle are still miles apart and more practically speaking language hasn’t even been drafted yet. So the chances of actually getting a budget this week remain zero.
Still the Democrat leadership will apparently put up a budget proposal which even if it garners a simple majority vote in each house will fall woefully short of the two-thirds vote necessary to pass a budget. That plan might even include an illegal effort to raise taxes with a simple majority vote similar to the scheme of a few years ago with a convoluted swap between a gas tax and a gas “fee” that would have meant billions in higher taxes. In the Orwellian world of Democrat finance the billions in higher taxes were not higher taxes because of the label affixed thereto. Governor Schwarzenegger rightfully vetoed that “drill” by the afternoon of the same day it cleared the Legislature.
The motivation behind this budget drill for the tax-and-spend majority party is purely political. They are hoping that this empty exercise will somehow enhance the chances of Proposition 25 passing. This proposal would lower the two-thirds vote to pass a budget to a simple majority as well as have all other kinds of anti-taxpayer ramifications.
While it may be true that a budget drill will focus public attention (however briefly) on the normal state of political dysfunction in California there is an old saying: Be careful what you wish for. It is just as likely that a drill of this sort will reinforce in voters’ minds that the Democrat agenda is one chock full of higher taxes. Recent polling and actual election results (Blakeslee v. Laird) strongly suggest that the public will react to the song of higher taxes like Simon Cowell reacts to a rank amateur.
For their part the Republicans may pull a drill of their own. Again with no hope of passage they could very well use the Governor’s budget — proposed weeks ago — as a template for a no-tax-hike budget. This would show voters that it is possible to resolve the lack of a budget with a plan that inflicts no more damage to already reeling taxpayers.
In the context of Proposition 25 the two competing budget plans likely to be introduced this week could have an illuminating effect on the debate leading up to the November election. With the legislature as an institution at all-time record low approval ratings do voters actually believe it is the process that is the problem or the members of the Legislature themselves? And how will voters react when they find out that it is the politicians (and their special interest paymasters) that put Proposition 25 on the ballot?
For the vast majority of citizens in California the lack of a budget has few real world consequences. While voters seem resigned to a state of perpetual budget gridlock the real pain comes from high unemployment a crushing tax burden and a Kafkaesque regulatory climate. Budget drills do nothing to address the real problems with California but even at their worst they may help define which side is closer to the attitudes and values of the voting public in November.
So drill baby drill.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.